The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative


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Collaborations in Conservation: Experts tackle alien species together

The first blog post of this series focused on the combination of science, art and education to raise awareness for the critically endangered Samoan Manumea through the publication of a children’s book. This post will focus on collaboration on a much larger scale through the combined effort of 163 experts over all 14 of the UK Overseas Territories. The experts joined forces under project DPLUS056 with a shared goal of identifying species that pose a risk to human health and biodiversity.

Collaboration of 163 experts led to predictions of impacts of invasive non-native species across 14 UKOTs

The UK’s 14 Overseas Territories (UKOTs) represent a diverse set of biological regions with fabulous species, habitats and people. The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has been delighted to be involved with two projects working with the UKOTs, and are happy to share the incredible collaborations and experiences we have had over the last two years.

The first UKOTs project our team led was funded through the Darwin Initiative: DPLUS056 in 2017 Assessment of current and future Invasive Alien Species in Cyprus (http://www.ris-ky.eu). Along with our project partners, the Joint Services Health Unit (JSHU), British Forces Cyprus and the University of Cyprus we investigated current and future threats from terrestrial and aquatic invasive non-native species using historic data, field surveys and horizon scanning (Roy et al. 2014, Roy 2015). A horizon scanning workshop brought together scientists from Cyprus and across Europe to generate a list of species considered to impact biodiversity, ecosystems and human health. In addition, the project team developed and undertook surveys for native and non-native invasive species across the Western Sovereign Base Area (SBA) in Cyprus alongside the review and collation of historic data to assess the current threats.

Cyprus DPLUS056 South Atlantic Horzion Scanning team at workshop in Cambridge, Credit - Helen Roy

The South Atlantic Horizon Scanning Team at a workshop held in Cambridge, Credit – Helen Roy

The information we gathered was presented and discussed with regional through a capacity-building workshop in August 2017, that enabled us to better understand the monitoring priorities for biological recording in the SBAs and across wider Cyprus.

Invasive non-native (and native) mosquitoes were identified as a major threat to human health and well-being. Therefore, in the following year (April 2018), a workshop was organised looking at the challenges regarding vector-borne disease management within SBAs and beyond, with a focus on the impacts of invasive non-native species.

In 2018 our team at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology began working on a UK Government funded project through support from the Non-Native Species Secretariat to undertake horizon scanning and biosecurity workshops across all 14 UKOTs. This provided an excellent opportunity to extend the horizon scanning methods developed through our Darwin Plus project DPLUS056 to all UKOTs to derive lists of invasive non-native species that could have adverse impacts. Our project team with collaborators from around the world worked with biodiversity experts from the UKOTs in order to develop priority lists and develop Pathway Action Plans in collaboration with the regional experts and guided by the biosecurity teams.

Cyprus DPLUS056 Professor Roy talking to children from Jamestown School St Helena, Credit - Helen Roy

Professor Roy talking with local school children in Jamestown, St Helena, Credit – Helen Roy

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, along with their project partners through their new Darwin Plus project DPLUS088: Addressing drivers of ecological change in Lake Akrotiri SBA, Cyprus continue to build on the work of our initial Darwin Plus project. Alongside remote sensing, hydrological surveys and plant assessments, which will be relevant for other UKOTs and will include a Code of Practice for Managing Mosquitoes in Wetlands.

These projects are intrinsically linked through a network of stakeholders working across common global challenges. We worked with experts from policy, environmental and research Government departments, representatives from biosecurity departments, education centres, universities, NGOs and the volunteer biological recording community. We have worked with over 150 people, through the Darwin Initiative and the UK Government funded project linking to the inspiring work within these regions. It has been a great privilege to foster networks with people working around the world on the invasive non-native species and biosecurity. The collaborations will continue in the future and we are looking forward to sharing the outcomes of this project in many different ways.

For more information on the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology’s DPLUS056 project in Cyprus please click here. The full article for this project and many others have been featured in the February 2019 Darwin Initiative newsletter that can be found here.

 

 

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Collaborations in Conservation: Combining Science, Education and Art

Our latest Darwin Initiative blog series highlights the importance of collaboration between project organisations and local communities, Governments and NGOs. We feature projects which have benefited from strong relationships between project partners and stakeholders, and who work together to achieve their goals.

This first blog post shares the success of a project working to protect the Manumea (Didunculus strigirostris) in Samoa. The project leader teamed up with a local school teacher and artist and through the combination of science, art and education they published a children’s book to raise awareness and promote the conservation of Samoa’s national bird.

Can a story save the little dodo?

The Manumea or the little dodo is the last of its kind, found nowhere else in the world apart from Samoa. The national bird of Samoa is seen by locals and visitors to the Pacific nation every day on the 50 sene coin and $20 tala note, yet it is a rare sight in its natural forest habitat. The Manumea is often referred to as the ‘princess of the forest’ and is one of the rarest birds in the world. It is considered as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Research funded through this Darwin project has allowed scientists and researchers from the Samoan Government Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and local conservation NGOs to undertake research to determine the reasoning behind the disappearance of this symbolic bird.

Unfortunately, the results from this critical study were not as wide reaching as was originally anticipated and the scientific publication did not attract many readers. The complex jargon and lengthy nature of the publication meant that the information was not easily shared with a wide audience – a solution was needed.

Project leader Dr. Rebecca Stirnemann summed up the dilemma – “To prevent the species’ decline, the science needed to be in the hearts of everyone”. Because the aim of the study was to prevent a further decline in species numbers, the results needed to accessible to everyone and in a format that was suitable for both adults and children in the community.

Samoa 21-001 Miss Samoa 2018 reading to school children, Credit - Jane Vaafanga

Miss Samoa 2018 reading ‘Mose and the Manumea’ to a group of local school children, Credit – Jane Va’afusuaga

Aiming to create awareness around the decline of Samoa’s national bird, as well as increase literacy among Samoan children and adults, the two authors – Rebecca Stirnemann and Jane Va’afusuaga – joined forces to write “Mose and the Manumea”. Prior to the publication of the book, the authors contemplated making a poster or a brochure but decided to write a children’s book that would be available in both Samoan and English.

Mose and the Manumea

The cover and illustrations for ‘Mose and the Manumea’ were done by artist Christina Brady and represent the colours and beauty of Samoa, Credit – Christina Brady.

It was important to the authors that the beauty and colours of the Pacific Island were accurately represented in the story and artist Christina Brady was recruited to the team as the illustrator. As a team they combined science, education and art and through dedication and teamwork were able to publish “Mose and the Manumea”.

The creation of the book is the true definition of collaboration. Author Jane is a school teacher and even the children in Samoa helped. In order to make a book that children would love the authors made several visits to local schools and had 8-10 year olds critique the text and help shape the book. The book is complete and has been published by Little Island Press and is a prime example of the success that can occur through collaboration. The book will fund active conservation on the ground to save the iconic species.

“Mose and the Manumea” is available on Amazon and all royalties are donated to the conservation of the Manumea by the authors.

For more information on project 21-001 lead by the Australian National University please click here. This article is featured in the February 2019 edition of the Darwin Initiative Newsletter, you can read the full newsletter here.


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Unexpected Achievements: Adaptation and Innovation

This blog series will focus on several Darwin Initiative projects that have thrived in the face of challenges, resulting in a number of unexpected achievements. Some projects were pleasantly surprised when they were able to accomplish more than they set out to do, whereas others soon realised that adapting their approach based on changes on the ground could help them to their changing environments was the best way forward.

The first blog will feature two groups of local people living on the edge of Protected Areas in Cameroon and Uganda, and follow their quest to secure their own livelihoods through the use of innovative approaches. Living next to a National Park may sound idealistic, however it has had several disadvantages for those on the outskirts of the Bwindi National Park, Uganda and the Dja Faunal Reserve, Cameroon. Due to the strict enforcement surrounding land usage and species conservation both villages had to embrace new methods to gain income and ensure food security.

 Life jackets improve livelihoods of communities in Cameroon

The local people living within the buffer zone of the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon have always had livelihoods built on hunting, fishing, and forest clearance for crop-growing that are now no longer possible because of the need to protect the natural spaces and the wildlife the Reserve contains. It is amazing to find just how creative and adaptable human beings can be when faced with such challenges.

This means that these people will be forced to find new sources of protein such as meat or fish and find a new means of paying for this food. People who had never focused on fishing before were now keen to try out the new fishing gear. The creation of a sustainable fishing zone within the nearby Dja River was proposed so that the villagers could continue to catch fish as the numbers doubled and tripled with time.

With no local lifebuoy shop and the average cost of a life jacket being far too overpriced for someone who earns 20,000 cfa (£24) per month the villagers had to get creative.

Cameroon 24-005 Threading nylon rope through the bottles and bag, Credit - PGS, FCTV, TF-RD, AWF

Assembling a life jacket with nylon rope, bottles and a bag, Credit – PGS, FCTV, TF-RD, AWF

Through the support of the Darwin team the villagers were able to come up with an innovative recipe for making a life jacket using bits and pieces of thrown away rubbish, boat rope and a fair degree of trial and error.

Armed now with new gear, training and having created their own safety equipment, many more people in the villages are turning to fishing rather than illegal hunting. The fish can be eaten locally or even taken to market to be sold.

Cameroon 24-005 End result fully cycled life jacket from the 'boucle du nord', Credit - PGS, FCTV, TF-RD, AWF

Modelling the end product – a fully cycled life jacket, Credit – PGS, FCTV, TF-RD, AWF

It’s a big success for the people (and the project) at this stage and wouldn’t have been possible if the villagers hadn’t invented new ways of ensuring safety on the river.

Unexpected achievements whilst boosting local economic development through pro-poor gorilla tourism

In Bwindi National Park, tourists pay $600 for a permit to track gorillas, however the people living on the edges receive little to no benefit. With very few conservation jobs available to local people coupled with low levels of skill development the result has been low quality handicrafts and community-based enterprises that have attracted limited sales amongst tourists. This has strained the relationships between local people, the park authority and tourism providers and poaching, snaring and other forms of illegal resource use are prevalent.

The project over the last two years has been investing in local people’s skills to produce quality tourism products and services that tourists, tour operators and lodge managers want to buy and hence generate viable livelihoods. The project team have worked with 14 small enterprises and trained over 300 local people in basket weaving, guiding, carving, horticulture and apiculture. Through the use of a ‘forest friendly’ badge, sales have gone through the roof.

Uganda 23-023 Tina from Change a Life Bwindi, displaying baskets made by women in her cooperative, Credit - Dilys Roe

Tina from Change a Life Bwindi displaying baskets made by women in her cooperative, Credit – Dilys Roe

The above outcomes were what the project team were hoping to achieve, however there were a couple of surprise outcomes that they hadn’t planned for. The sales from weaving have been so good that the cooperative members were able to equip their homes with solar lights. A commercial honey producer called Golden Bees has opened a new honey shop in the south of the park selling honey produced by former poachers, after having been so impressed with the quality of the product on offer.

Locals and lodges alike are enjoying the locally produced fruit and vegetables now that the range, quality and reliability of supply has improved. To cap this series of unexpected achievements the team recently learnt that the project has been shortlisted for a World Responsible Tourism Award!

 

For more information on the Antwerp Zoo Centre for Research & Conservation Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (RZSA) project 24-005 please click here and to find out more about IIED project 23-032 click here, or read the full articles in our November 2018 Newsletter


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International Day of Biodiversity – Sustainable Use

In our previous blog, we looked at two remarkable projects taking a community-based approach to upholding the first objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity: protecting and conserving biological diversity. In this blog we will be exploring two Darwin Initiative projects focused on the second CBD objective: the sustainable use of biodiversity components.

The first is a traditional example of sustainable biodiversity use, working with local groups to develop and manage sustainable hunting in Cameroon. The second takes a slightly more indirect approach, exploring how sustainable use of water in the Tana River Delta in Kenya can have remarkable impacts on biodiversity and conservation.

Sustainable hunting, conservation and human wellbeing in Baka lands in Cameroon

In the forests of Central Africa, pressure from growing urbanised human populations and hunting advances have led to a booming commercial wild meat trade that is causing the decline of numerous wildlife populations. Peoples that depend on wild meat and other products are affected. Recognition that there is an urgent need to ensure the sustainability of these resources by reducing the uncontrolled bushmeat trade whilst empowering rural and indigenous communities was declared in the 21st Conference of the Parties to the CBD.

Cameroon 24-029 Baka women and children outside traditional hut, Credit - Eva Avila

This project, with Darwin funding, is working towards the implementation of the new CBD resolution. The collaborators are 10 communities of Baka Pygmies in southern Cameroon. The Baka, who are traditionally hunter-gatherers, have endured for over 40,000 years as part of Central Africa’s Pygmy population.

By documenting hunting and fishing practices and volumes extracted in our study villages, the project is working alongside local people to achieve sustainable levels of wild meat extraction and consumption. Unlike other bushmeat-focused projects, this project works within the triptych of human health, use of wild resources and domestic food production. By working with health professionals and agricultural experts, Darwin Initiative funding is improving the health of the Baka villages through disease prevention strategies. By encouraging food security through an increased access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods from more competent subsistence agriculture and alternative livelihoods, villagers’ health is further improved.

Balancing water services for development and biodiversity in the Tana River Delta, Kenya

The 130,000ha Tana River Delta in Kenya is an extremely important area for biodiversity. As well as being recognised as a Ramsar site, Key Biodiversity Area and Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, it is a proposed World Heritage Site.

The Delta supports a range of charismatic, endemic and endangered species including five species of threatened marine turtles, lions, elephants, the endemic Tana River Red Colobus (one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates), the Tana River Mangabey (Endangered), rare fish and reptiles, 350 bird species including the Basra Reed-warbler (Endangered), and internationally important populations of 22 waterbirds and 280 plants (including four Vulnerable species).

The Tana Delta Land Use Plan (TDLUP) was completed in 2015. In April 2017, with funding from the Darwin Initiative, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds through Nature Kenya started piloting the implementation of the TDLUP. The best place to demonstrate how to implement the plan is in the heart of the delta, where biodiversity is richest and access to water and land is hotly contested by local people.

The project will work in this area to support 45 villages and two County Governments (Tana River and Lamu) to balance water use for development and biodiversity by establishing a Community Conservation Area (CCA) over 95,200 hectares of the core of the delta.

Kenya 21-015 Tana Delta community members and Nature Kenya staff during World Wetlands Day Celebrations 2018, Credit - G. Odera

Tana Delta community members and Nature Kenya staff during World Wetlands Day Celebrations 2018, Credit – G. Odera

The project has made good progress in its first year, and highlights include:

  1. An Ecosystem Services Assessment of the CCA was carried out, with stakeholders agreeing on the general boundaries of the CCA.
  2. Biodiversity assessments were carried out in the CCA. A key finding is that the ranges of the Tana River Red Colobus and the Tana River Crested Mangabey extend further south than initially recorded.
  3. Household wellbeing and socioeconomic surveys were conducted in 15 villages targeted for livelihood activities in the proposed Tana Delta CCA. These will form a baseline for measuring community livelihood improvements resulting from project interventions.

Thus, the project has taken the first steps towards establishing the CCA and promoting sustainable use of water to ensure biodiversity is maintained through future development.

For the full version of both these articles, please see the May 2018 edition of the Darwin Newsletter. For more information on the Baka lands sustainable hunting project, click here. For more information on the Tana River Delta project, click here.


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International Day of Biodiversity – Community Engagement

2018 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, signed into force less than a matter of months after the announcement of the Darwin Initiative. With such close creations, it is unsurprising that the CBD has helped shape the nature of Darwin Initiative projects over the past 25 years, embodying core biodiversity values and objectives that the Darwin Initiative seeks to achieve. The latest edition of the Darwin Newsletter, released on the International Day for Biological Diversity, is a celebration of this Anniversary, exploring how current projects are trying to meet CBD objectives 25 years later.

The core objectives of the CBD are: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of biodiversity components; and the fair and equitable use of any benefits arising from the use of biodiversity resources. In this series of blogs, we will be looking at projects which exemplify these objectives. In our first blog, we will be looking at two projects in Africa focused on conservation of biological diversity through community engagement and collaborative efforts. Our second blog will focus on sustainable usage of biodiversity components, visiting a sustainable hunting project in Cameroon and a water management project in Kenya’s Tana River Delta. Finally, our third blog of the series will look at the award-winning benefit sharing programme in Myanmar supported by the Darwin Initiative.

Community conservation of wild Arabica coffee – people and the Convention on Biological Diversity

Arabica coffee is found growing wild only in Ethiopia, and an adjoining area of South Sudan. Hence it is a genetic resource for which Ethiopia is responsible under the Convention on Biological Diversity. One of the last remaining major blocks of natural forests, in the south-west of the country, is one area where this wild coffee is found.

With support from the Darwin Initiative, the University of Huddersfield and Ethio Wetlands and Natural Resources Association undertook an analysis of the causes of forest loss. From this analysis, the Wild Coffee Conservation by Participatory Forest Management (PFM) project was developed to assist the government in revising the regional forest policy to give communities forest-based rights and responsibilities.

Ethiopia 19-025 Basket of ripe coffee cherries picked off mountain forest plots cleared for coffee cultivation, Credit - Sheko Woreda, SNNPR

Basket of ripe coffee cherries picked off mountain forest plots cleared for coffee cultivation, Credit – Sheko Woreda, SNNPR

PFM was developed at the village communities as they were found to be most knowledgeable about the forest and have strong links to specific areas. At that level, forest management groups were elected to undertake management and monitoring. The communities also established cooperatives to market sustainably harvested forest produce, the income from which helps cover the costs of the monitoring and protection of the forest.

This work has slowed forest loss from 2.6% per year outside the PFM forest to 0.18% per year inside the PFM forest, with over 76,000ha of forest now under PFM. Analysis using the Shannon Diversity Index showed that biodiversity has been maintained within natural forest, which contains the wild coffee stands. The wild coffee is now mapped and included in the community forest management plans which are jointly monitored each year with the government.

By getting forest rights and livelihood benefits for the forest fringe dwelling communities Darwin support has helped turn degraded, “open access” forest into actively managed forests where communities protect a unique global genetic resource – your morning Arabica coffee.

Elephant conservation through community empowerment in Mali

Mali 23-022, Elephants Pans 8x10_1, Credit - Carlton Ward Photography

Elephant migration, Credit – Carlton Ward Photography

An internationally important population, the Mali elephants are remarkable for how they have managed to survive when all others around them have disappeared. They make the longest annual migration of all elephants, picking their way through this harsh environment to find the resources they require, and avoiding human activity as much as possible.

After studying their migration for 3 years it became clear that they were at the limit of their ability to adapt any further. Their migration route needed to be preserved in its entirety, although conflict was rising as human activity was spreading and intensifying throughout the range. As this covered approximately 32,000km (somewhere between the size of Belgium and Switzerland) a landscape approach that involved the local people was essential.

The award-winning Mali Elephant Project has received two grants from the Darwin Initiative, the first of which supported the development of a model of community empowerment in resource management. Its work is to bring all parts of the community together to create a common perception of the problems they face before determining solutions.

The second grant of these grants currently supports the development of women-led initiatives to generate income from practices that encourage the wise use of natural resources in key areas in the elephant range. Working with women is a quietly powerful way of providing strong support, influence, and additional incentives as an alternative to often-destructive, traditionally male-dominated natural resource management structures. The training empowers women to collectively generate additional income enabling them to take an active role in local decisions relating to resource use by promoting the protection of sustainable use zones and regeneration of degraded land.

Mali 23-022, Womens association harvesting medicinale plants, Credit - WILD Foundation

Women’s association harvesting medicinal plants, Credit – WILD Foundation

Empowering local people to prevent outsiders and urban commercial interests from abusive resource extraction is popular and the local benefits of “elephant-centred” resource management have provided the foundation for a successful anti-poaching strategy and the creation of a protected area based on the biosphere reserve model.

For the full version of both these articles, please see the May 2018 edition of the Darwin Newsletter. For more information on the Ethiopia Coffee Participatory Forest Management Project click here. Mali Elephant Project is a joint initiative of the WILD Foundation and the International Conservation Fund of Canada. See https://www.wild.org/mali-elephants/ and http://icfcanada.org/our-projects/projects/mali_elephants . If you are interested in learning more about the Darwin projects click here: 19-010 or 23-022.


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Life Below Water – Conserving Marine Areas

This is the second in our series of Darwin blogs celebrating the remarkable and innovative ways Darwin projects contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Our last blog explored two projects in the Western Pacific’s Coral Triangle, working to minimise unsustainable shark fishing and implementing collaborative community schemes to better manage seagrass beds.

This blog looks at projects working to establish marine protected areas. With the first project, we travel to Belize and look at a protected area in the heart of the Mesoamerican Reef. From the Caribbean Sea we then move to the South Atlantic to learn about the Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary Project and their plans to establish the largest marine reserve in the Atlantic.

Conservation and socioeconomic benefits of a marine protected area at Glover’s Atoll, Belize

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are now common, and have evoked considerable public interest. They have become one of the more popular tools within an ecosystem-based management approach because they are able to balance environmental health and biodiversity conservation with the socio-economic needs of fishing communities across the world’s oceans.

Areas within MPAs where all extractive use is prohibited are traditionally referred to as ‘no-take areas’. However in Belize the term ‘replenishment zone’ (RZ) has recently been adopted in place of ‘no-take zone’. ‘Replenishment zone’ has a less negative connotation for resource users concerned about being restricted from fishing in traditional waters.

Belize 22-014 Spiny lobster is the most important fishery and the largest seafood export for Belize, Credit - Alex Tewfik

Spiny lobster is the most important fishery and the largest seafood export for Belize, Credit – Alex Tewfik

This Darwin project, led by the WCS Belize Programme, works with fishers in Belize to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fisheries they rely on, particularly queen conch and Caribbean spiny lobster. The cooperation of local fishers is crucial, and so their perception of the role of these protected areas is pivotal to project success. Interventions are focused on the Glover’s Reef Atoll which has an area of 350 km2 and lies approximately 42 km east of the central Belizean mainland. This atoll is 1 of 7 protected areas that comprise the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

A study carried out through the project demonstrates the positive impact of protection within the RZ. Importantly they also identify the benefits of RZs for small scale fisher livelihoods. The benefits observed following the establishment and enforcement of the RZ at Glover’s Atoll have been supported by a broader set of fisheries conservation strategies, such as size limits, closed seasons, and species bans. The sustainability of this approach will be assured by continuing long-term community consultations that support the core objectives for the management of GRMR, enhancing economic benefits for Belizean fishers.

The results of this research (published in Marine Ecology Progress Series) will also be used to inform the ever-evolving conservation and management strategies employed by WCS across Belize. Ultimately the aim is to achieve a balance between biodiversity and ecosystem services protection, including fisheries and tourism-based livelihoods. Doing so will help to secure the future of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belize Barrier Reef System, and will generate findings with broader applicability across the Mesoamerican Reef.

Belize 22-014 A free diver searches for Queen Conch within Glover's atoll lagoon ,Credit - Alex Tewfik cropped

A free diver searches for Queen Conch within Glover’s Atoll lagoon, Credit – Alex Tewfik

The Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary: Planning for the Atlantic’s largest marine reserve

Although many people would struggle to find it on a map, the remote UK Overseas Territory of Ascension Island is on the verge of entering the ‘big league’ of ocean conservation, joining such notable company as the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands as home to one of the world’s largest marine reserves.

The intention to close at least 50% of Ascension’s 440,000 km2 exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to all forms of commercial fishing by 2019 was formally announced by the UK Government at the UN Our Oceans summit in September 2016 and will establish the largest fully no-take MPA in the Atlantic Ocean. Providing the scientific and technical data to support these decisions is currently the focus of a Darwin Plus project led by the Ascension Island Government Conservation & Fisheries Department and the University of Exeter.

The Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary (ASIOS) Project aims to address many of the challenges and controversies common to all remote, large-scale MPAs: How can it be enforced? How effectively will it conserve the highly mobile species of the open ocean? How do we measure its success? The project is also responding to the mandate of local and UK Government stakeholders to assess whether an economically-viable and well-managed fishery can coexist with a future MPA in a portion of the EEZ, and, if so, which areas should be protected.

Galapagos DPLUS063 Aggregation of Galapagos sharks, Credit - Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Dept

A Galapagos shark being released after fitting acoustic tag, Credit – British Antarctic Survey

Oceanic islands and seamounts are known to be hotspots of abundance and diversity for pelagic species and are obvious focal points for the creation of marine reserves. In order to better understand the scale of their ‘bio-aggregating’ effect, the ASIOS project team surveyed the biodiversity of three previously unstudied seamounts lying 260-320 km to the south and west of Ascension. To determine how large an area needs protecting, the expedition set out to measure how the abundance and diversity of marine life at all levels of the food chain varies with distance from each mount, as well as mapping the movements of individual top predators associated with them. These datasets will hopefully provide a rare insight into the “biodiversity footprint” of a tropical seamount system that can contribute to MPA planning on Ascension and beyond.

With less than two years until designation there is still much to be done; however, with the support of Darwin Plus, the European Union’s BEST 2.0 initiative and other donors, the Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary promises to put the Territory firmly on the map as a global leader in MPA science and management.

For the complete articles on these projects, and a variety of other interesting updates from Darwin coastal and marine projects, see the latest Darwin Newsletter themed on “Life Below Water”. For more information on WCS’s project in Belize see here, and for more information on the Ascension Island MPA see here.

Our next blog will look at the International Year of the Reef.


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Life Below Water – Darwin in the Coral Triangle

In the February 2018 Darwin Newsletter we explored some of the amazing Darwin supported projects contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Darwin projects work towards SDG14 in a range of ways, including improving coastal ecosystem management, combatting overfishing, and expanding scientific understanding of marine species and ecosystems.

The articles below provide an insight into two Darwin projects working in the Western Pacific’s Coral Triangle – one an effort to protect sharks from overfishing, the other a collaborative approach to managing seagrass beds.

Sustainably managing shark fishing for livelihoods and food security in Indonesia

Lying at the heart of the Coral Triangle, Indonesia is a global hotspot for marine biodiversity with high levels of shark richness and endemism. It is also the world’s largest shark fishing nation, with average annual catch exceeding 100,000 tonnes per year.

Shark fisheries have existed in Indonesia for centuries. Fisheries are often small-scale, mixed-species and difficult to monitor due to their informal nature and widespread distribution. High value fins are exported to international markets, while non-fin products including meat and skin are consumed domestically. This million-dollar industry employs thousands of people, from fishers to processors to traders, and holds significant social value as a tradition, culture and ‘safety-net’ source of animal protein.

Indonesia 22-008 Dried fin on Muncar, Java, Credit - Benaya Simeon (WCS-IP2)

Dried fin on Muncar, Java, Credit – Benaya Simeon (WCS-IP2)

Tanjung Luar, a small village in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara province, has drawn attention because of its open shark landings, proximity to high-end tourism resorts, and negative portrayal of local fishers in the international media. More than 6,000 individual sharks and rays across 82 different species are landed in Tanjung Luar each year, by a targeted long-line fishing fleet of roughly 50 vessels. High grade shark fins from some of these species can fetch more than USD $100 per kg for the first buyer. This high price, and a lack of other legal, sustainable alternatives, makes implementing shark conservation in Tanjung Luar extremely challenging.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia, with financial support from the Darwin Initiative, is seeking to balance the complex trade-offs between shark conservation and socioeconomics through a nuanced, pragmatic, and ethical approach. They support the government and fishing communities to implement fisheries management and marine protected area interventions at the local level. In Tanjung Luar they are helping to identify and incentivise the adoption of more selective and sustainable fishing practices, whilst also reducing barriers to more sustainable livelihoods. They believe that these site based efforts will set an example for shark conservation efforts in other parts of Indonesia, the Coral Triangle and throughout the world.

Collaborating to save seagrass: communities in Timor-Leste embrace a new opportunity for conservation

Monda Costa stands chest deep in the sea. The baking mid-morning sun illuminates the blue water as she peers at a square on the seafloor. Two others from Monda’s home island of Ataúro and a Blue Ventures volunteer assess the same ground.

Where an untrained eye would only see drab plants, the team recognises and records two species of seagrass – Thalassia hemprichii and Syringodium isoetifolium. Their work is part of a community-based monitoring (CBM) programme established by Blue Ventures to involve Ataúro’s residents in collecting baseline data on seagrass beds – a first step in longer-term efforts to empower communities to protect these and other threatened habitats.

Seagrass survey © Blue Ventures Christina Saylor

Ataúro’s community members take part in a seagrass survey, Credit – Christina Saylor, Blue Ventures

Seagrasses are flowering plants that form meadows in shallow waters. These meadows are ecological superstars. They trap carbon and produce oxygen, act as nurseries for young reef fish and provide grazing grounds for crowd-pleasing animals like green turtles and dugongs. Protecting these valuable habitats is a priority in Timor Leste, but scientists, community members and decision makers need more information about the location, composition and use of existing seagrass beds.

In Timor-Leste, the power for change lies within each community. Establishing locally-managed marine areas is a decision made and enforced by villages through the customary law of tara bandu. Informed voices are a critical part of this decision-making.

CBM participants receive training on the ecological role and the economic value of seagrass meadows. They also learn technical skills for conducting surveys – from laying measuring tape on the seafloor to identifying species and sediment types. Training is voluntary, but once they pass certification tests, surveyors are paid for their time.

“I can now tell my community about why seagrass is important for the fish and why it’s good to protect the seagrass beds. Seagrasses provide food for fish, turtles and other animals. And one day more tourists will come and want to see the seagrass and the fish and turtles,” says Monda. “We don’t want people from outside to decide how our resources are used. We need to control and protect our resources.”

Monda and team conducting a survey © Blue Ventures Christina Saylor

Monda and team conducting a survey, Credit – Christina Saylor, Blue Ventures

For the complete articles on these projects, and a variety of other interesting updates from Darwin coastal and marine projects, see the latest Darwin Newsletter themed on ”Life Below Water”. For more information on WCS Indonesia’s work on sustainable fishing see here, and to find out more about Monda Costa and the Blue Ventures’ Community Based Monitoring Programme, see here.

Tune in for our upcoming blog posts exploring new marine reserves and protected areas, and to learn all about the International Year of the Reef.